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Racquet Club Undergoes Transformation

ERIC SMITH | The Daily News

When the world’s best tennis players step off the red carpet and into The Racquet Club of Memphis for the men’s Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the women’s Cellular South Cup in February, they might not recognize the place.

That’s because the club’s new owners are in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation intended to transform every part of the 180,000-square-foot East Memphis facility. The club, at 5111 Sanderlin Ave., has been home to the men’s tournament since 1976 and the women’s tournament since 2002.

Golden Set LLC – the ownership group composed of local investors (38 percent) plus San Jose, Calif.-based Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment (62 percent) – has completed the first phase of the revitalization. That entailed a new roof, and the overhaul of the club’s fitness, banquet and dining facilities.

Next comes an extensive renovation and expansion of the locker rooms, a crucial element for the club to continue attracting the sport’s top players, who need adequate room for everything from pre-match preparations to post-match massages.

But while The Racquet Club is best known for a two-week run that is bringing the likes of Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova to town in a few months, the goal of this project is to enhance the club for its membership as well.

“The good news is that it benefits everybody,” said local partner Brian Sullivan, who also is principal of CS2 Advertising. “It benefits the members in most cases 50 weeks a year and the players two weeks a year. But all the improvements work for everybody.”

NOTHING LEFT UNTOUCHED

Golden Set LLC – which wholly owns Tennis Club of Memphis LLC (owner and operator of the club) and GS Tournaments LLC (owner and operator of the tournaments) – bought The Racquet Club last year for $4.4 million. It quickly replaced the roof and made over the fitness center and the banquet areas.

This summer and fall, the group oversaw the restaurant renovation and some work around the swimming pool, including a new deck and bar.

“We were really trying to focus on the areas that members use the most,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan wasn’t able to put an exact dollar amount on the renovations, only to say it will be “several million dollars.” Building permits filed with the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement in the past six months have totaled about $1.5 million.

But the changes are more than physical. Tennis Club of Memphis created a new logo, a new Web site – even a new entrance to the club – all of which leads Sullivan to believe that visitors to the club won’t realize where they are.

“We changed everything from the front doors on in,” he said.

Sullivan said SVSE, as the majority partner, was “very involved” with the direction of the renovations. He also said the owners met with officials from tennis’ governing bodies, the ATP Tour Inc. on the men’s side and the WTA Tour Inc. on the women’s side, to gauge their requirements for hosting a pair of first-class tournaments. The men’s event, for example, is a “500” level series, meaning better players and bigger payout.

“It’s been a real team effort,” Sullivan said.

MEMPHIS HANDIWORK

The team was aided by a couple of Memphis partners – The Crump Firm on the architecture and design side and Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. on the construction side.

Brett Grinder, vice president of Grinder, Taber & Grinder, the company handling general contractor duties for the renovation, said he understood his company’s requirement of balancing the needs of the tournament and the general membership.

“They want the best of both worlds,” he said. “The members are foremost in their minds, it’s clear, and they want to make sure the experience of being a member of that club is on par with every topflight club in the area, and it will be.”

Grinder, Taber & Grinder has done some minor renovations at the club before, and it has done work at other sports facilities, including Memphis Country Club, ParMasters and school gymnasiums throughout the city.

“Athletic facilities are something we like to focus on because they’re neat projects and they’re good for the community to have,” Grinder said. “I think an anchor like that in that part of town is very important.”

With a racquetball tournament happening at the club, Grinder, Taber & Grinder won’t be able to start the second phase of construction – roughly $1 million of locker room improvements – until next week. Then it will need to turn over the facility in time for the Feb. 12 start of the tournaments.

“We’re going to basically crunch down a very complicated project into that time frame just because it has to fit between those tournament dates,” Grinder said. “We’re going to be working through the holidays. The plan is to work as hard as we can.”

Home of the Tigers

Yet another piece of The Racquet Club’s changes is the club’s owners have teamed up with the University of Memphis to be the official home of the men’s and women’s tennis teams, a deal that was unveiled last week.

That means redoing six of the facility’s outdoor hard courts. Each will have a new surface and new windscreen with the

U of M logo on them, and the teams will even have their own area in the club for locker rooms.

For Sullivan, this partnership – coupled with the club’s other offerings and upgrades for tennis players and fans – epitomizes the new owners’ mission as it looks to the future.

“One of our original goals was to be the center of tennis in the Mid-South, and now we’ll have men’s and women’s professional tennis tournaments, a national junior tournament and we’ll be the home of a major Division I college tennis team,” Sullivan said. “So that’s a pretty good start.”

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